The city of Vero Beach has decided to ban any new dispensaries from opening within city limits, now that a state law trumps any zoning ordinance dictating where dispensaries can be located.
"We did not want to ban dispensaries as much as we wanted to regulate where they went," said James O'Connor, City Manager, City of Vero Beach.
Under the new state law, medical marijuana dispensaries have to be treated like any pharmacy. The dispensaries will not be allowed to open within 500 feet of a school, but even that can be challenged if a pharmacy or liquor store already exists in the area.
The city of Vero Beach approved the location for Trulieve medical marijuana dispensary on Commerce Avenue under its previous ordinance which zoned the dispensaries away from schools, public facilities and parks. This comes in spite of the state law that says dispensaries can be located anywhere a pharmacy would be.
"We were concerned about up and down Highway 1 as an example or on A1A, that the dispensaries start opening," said O'Connor.
"I'll be very unpopular with the council, I suggested to them that they were using that particular area as a dumping ground," said Dr. Michael Herman, owner and operator of Pet Medical Center of Vero Beach which is located just around the corner from the dispensary location.
"A medical marijuana facility is a great thing to have in Indian River County, but it needs to be up by the doctors and hospitals," said Herman. "It's a cash business, so it does open us up to a crime situation."
The state law supersedes local regulations, but because Vero Beach took action before the state passed its law. It's following an established legal precedent, grandfathering in this one dispensary approved under local regulations and using the option in the current state law to ban all medical marijuana dispensaries moving forward.
Herman is concerned about the future impact the approved dispensary will have on his business and around it, being that it will be the only one.
"Hopefully when recreational use comes in, they are not going to use the excuse that they were grandfathered in, if anything they are grandfathered in as a medicinal marijuana facility," added Dr. Herman.
There's no word yet whether a dispensary will challenge Vero Beach's application of the law. The state has placed a limit on how dispensaries one company can open, but there is no cap on how many can be located in a city or county.
Palm Beach County will allow dispensaries once its moratorium is lifted and new code changes are adopted in September.
St. Lucie County had enacted an ordinance that would allow for a limited number of dispensaries to open in the county, but now that the state law overrides the ordinance, the county plans to accept the state law and allow for dispensaries to operate.